At what age is it safe to stop reading?
October 9, 2015
Many years ago when I was seminary student I heard a story about the great twentieth century theologian Paul Tillich.
According to legend, an admirer of Tillich had the opportunity to meet him at an event given in the theologian’s honor. The fan brought a book with him and presented it to Tillich as a present. The famous thinker took the book in his hand and studied it. Then he gave it back to the donor with these words.
“I don’t read any more. At this late stage in my life I spend my time pondering books I have already read.”
That story also reminds me of one I heard just a few years ago. A friend of mine visited his old high school shortly before graduation and happened upon a senior student he knew.
“I guess you’re glad graduation is almost here,” he said to the young scholar.
“Yeah. I got to take one more test, then I don’t have to learn nothing else,” came the reply.
These stories shed light on the personalities of two radically different people, one who loved learning, one who loathed it. Yet each person came to same conclusion: at some point in life the best strategy is to go with what you’ve got.
I guess I’m not old enough yet.
For me one of the greatest joys in life is discovering a new subject, reading a work that brings a new slant on an issue I thought I understood already, picking up a book on a topic I didn’t even know existed.
What if that next book I find is the one that brings it all together? What if it debunks my old ways of thinking and shows me a better way? What if I find out that two plus two may not always equal four?
That’s the thing about books. A single one can contain the insight that has eluded a person for decades. It can fire the brain for the first time. It can bring order to chaos or wreak havoc on our preconceptions.
One final story about Paul Tillich.
A journalist who interviewed him when the professor was an old man asked him if he prayed.
Tillich paused before he answered.
“I think it would be more accurate to say that I meditate.”
I guess I’m still in the learning and praying stage.
Check back with me when I’m an old guy.